(In case you thought the words ‘holidays’ and ‘healthy’ could not be in the same season..or the same sentence…)

The holidays can be a wonderful time to see family, eat tasty treats, relax, reflect on the year and prepare for the new one. However, starting on Thanksgiving, many of us enter holiday mode by gorging on everything in sight. For some of us, that mentality stays and we end up creating New Year’s Resolutions just to undo the bad habits of December! For others of us, it’s not easy to be around family, or we hate shopping, or we’ve had a hard year, or we get the winter blues. With the frenzy of the holidays often comes great stress.

Thus, ‘tis the season to practice staying healthy and happy! Here are some reminders.

  1. You can still have a good time eating and drinking in moderation. With the almost cruel amount of sweets, breads, glazes, meats and alcohol floating around every holiday table, it’s hard not to dive in and consume everything in sight. This is natural since humans are hardwired for survival to eat fats and sugars when they’re available. Our bodies don’t know we’re not living in the wild and Jack In The Box is just around the corner. So, it’s up to the mind to have a game plan.

Try this: Instead of sampling everything on the table, scope out the goods first and decide which few look the most satisfying. There’s no need to deny yourself, but having a “choose the best” mentality can prevent regret later. As for alcohol, decide how much you want to drink before you arrive. Stick to it.

  1. Stay active, even though it’s cold outside. When our bio-rhythmic clock starts to go into hibernation mode, it’s natural to want to curl up in a ball every night instead of hitting the gym or going on your favorite walking route. Yet, one of the easiest ways to feel tired, groggy and gross during the winter is to stop exercising.

Try this: If the winter disrupts your exercise schedule, adopt a “when I can, what I can” attitude. Don’t feel bad that your body isn’t as excited about moving as it was in the summer, but adapt to fit the season and look for opportunities to stay active. If you’re an evening exerciser, wake up a little earlier and go for a walk in the morning. Or sign up for a class that sounds fun. When you have your name on the roster and a group is expecting you, you may feel more motivated to get out of your pajamas.

  1. Get enough sunlight and vitamin D. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or winter depression, affects at least 3% of the American population, and up to 20%.[1] If you start feeling uncharacteristically sad, hopeless, lethargic, uninterested, irritable, or your sleep pattern changes, you may have the winter blues. SAD occurs as a result of the change in the day/night cycle.

Try this: Vitamin D is what makes us feel so good during the summer because we soak up (convert, actually) a ton of it from the sun. With less sun in the winter, try taking a Vitamin D supplement or drinking more milk. Artificial light therapy is effective for many. Just turn on a special light therapy box for 20-30 minutes a day to improve mood.

  1. Give yourself 60 seconds of downtime whenever you need it. Shopping, family, work, traffic, money – name any stressor and the holiday season probably has it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Luckily, according to Dr. Reggie Melrose, author of The 60 Seconds Fix[2], we can get out of fight-or-flight mode and back into “The Zone” by practicing just a minute of mindfulness when we need it. Physiologically, we can learn to get ourselves calm, which leads to greater clarity and joy in the long run.

Try this: When you start to feel your stress levels rising, give yourself 60 seconds to just:

  • First, uncross your legs and feel your feet on the ground. This instantaneously lowers blood pressure and brings you into your body.
  • Then, feel the support of whatever you are standing on or sitting in. Connecting to your physical surroundings may make you feel pleasantly heavy.
  • Third, breathe. We sometimes forget. Specifically, breathe in through the nose and deep into the belly. This triggers nerve endings that tell our body everything is okay.
  • Fourth, if you can, visualize a soothing nature scene. Even if we can’t be in a garden or on a hiking trail, our brains still get the same benefit of relaxation when we imagine we are.
  • Finally, notice the positive physical sensations in your body. Do you feel warm? Full? Relaxed? Noticing is the key to sustaining a healthy habit.

When you practice 60 Seconds, your brain forms neural pathways to make it easier and more natural to stay calm in stressful situations.

  1. Practice a little gratitude to de-stress. When things seem to be speeding up way too fast and maybe you weren’t able to get everything done to “perfection”, take a few seconds to be grateful for what we all have here in California (especially ; ) and let all the details go by the way-side. A sad sign that it’s the holidays are people with high stress levels and a sense of being out-of-control with the long to-do list.

Try this: As you are driving across town and people are trying to run you off the road, just be grateful that you are not in such a hurry. Be grateful for the car you are driving, that it is getting you across town. Take a little dose of simplicity for the simple fact that we have running water. You can also practice by simply telling someone that you appreciate whatever it is that they did for you, like a shop owner, or a coffee barista or the grocery clerk. Just say “thanks” and know that you really mean it.

Bottom Line: Whatever it is that you are celebrating this holiday season, KISS: Keep It Simple Sally/Simon. (I know there’s the other term for the last ‘S’, but let’s be positive here.) Have a great time and be at peace with yourself and others. Onward to 2016!!!

[1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

[2] http://www.the60secondsfix.com